“TOAD ROAD” and NO-BUDGET HORROR

 

Very few people have heard of “Toad Road,” let alone seen it, but we all know its ilk – a no-budget film, mostly improvised, that is content to explore ideas rather than follow a story. There is a reason these types of films rarely grace the mainstream screens: they frustrate and infuriate viewers who want to see plot, drama, and emotional beats. Yet, they still find their place – and it is vital that us filmmakers celebrate their existence.

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“Toad Road” is the brainchild of Jason Banker, documentary specialist, who built a film around the urban legend of the Gates of Hell in York, Pennsylvania. Into the framework of this legend he places a group of drug-addicted friends – actual friends and non-actors who he found on MySpace – and simply films them interacting. Interspersed in their verite scenes are moments of horrific poetry, glitchy cameras and bloody faces, surrounding the idea of the Gates. There is something of a story, too – one of these friends gets a girl addicted to this legend (and a number of drugs), and ends up walking through the gates with her, but only one of them returns.

It’s all very nebulous, and one might compare it to a student film – after all, it’s as unglamorous as you can get, and the actors aren’t acting. But that’s what sets it apart. Banker orchestrates his non-cast so realistically, using his documentary instincts, and not a moment of their friendship seems false. It’s more visceral than any found-footage film because it is, essentially, real. (It must be noted, also, that the lead actress passed away before the film premiered – a tragedy that makes a mark on the film itself.)

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So most viewers will despise it. I can’t say I thoroughly enjoyed it myself – but I fell in love with the idea of it. In this money-guzzling industry, where it’s near impossible to get financing for your film, there is nothing wrong with shooting a film in the style of “Toad Road.” Why don’t more people do it? And why is it not encouraged in film school? Filmmaking is not about earning a paycheck (though at some point it becomes so) – it is about creating art, telling stories. “Toad Road” does this in its own way, and the effect is lasting. Even if its plotting lacks, its atmosphere, visuals and characters are drawn with skill.

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Films like this remind me of “Blair Witch” and “Marble Hornets,” even the original “Evil Dead” – you can see the tatters and the seams, but who cares, because the entertainment value is so damn high? The challenge with these films becomes getting people involved – convincing them that it’s worth the time. Because people don’t place much value on these no-budget efforts. I want that to change.

“Toad Road” left me with one vital emotion: inspiration. I wanted to go out and make something like this even while I watched the film. And so, forces willing, I intend to do just that. We live in the age of the internet, a free distribution platform – we must take advantage.

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